Welcome to Pat's Reform party, which is slouching toward August 9 and Long Beach, when a Buchanan ally is expected to be installed as the convention's credentials committee chairman. That's the guy who decides which delegates sit in for the August 10-12 convention and which stand out in the cold, waving John Hagelin signs in their hands and mourning Jesse and Ross in their hearts. To Buchanan will go the spoiled.
Pat's Reform party will be the loudspeaker of protectionism, nativism and the religious right. Buchanan, set to collect $12 million in federal funds as a reward for Perot's two consecutive over-5 percent showings in 1992 and 1996, will doubtless run an entertaining campaign, screaming to be let into the debates and slinging his witty brand of populist mud into the mainstream fray. He will pray to his big, intrusive God that George W. Bush chooses a pro-choice running mate, because with Nader working the unions, the only table scraps left are disaffected far-righties and even those are a long shot.
Buchanan is a smart and funny man in private, and those with an appreciation for gimmick politics will always have a soft spot for him. On the stump, he's a harder man to tolerate what with intolerance being practically a bumper sticker for him and his audience is narrowing. Remember, it was a decided lack of disaffected Republicans that drove Buchanan into Perot's arms in the first place (the numbers for Pat in his perennial GOP primary battles had dwindled to nothing) and in his bid for the Reform mantle Pat has steadfastly refused to broaden his appeal.
What does the future hold for the PRP? A wild, rabble-rousing ride through the backwaters of the American electorate, followed by a probable quick death (Pat has to poll that magic 5 percent in November to hang onto his federal dollars, and it doesn't look good). Of course, His Pitchforkness may even clear the bar and make the party a showcase for the country's most poisonous voters a political leper colony with a pundit for a messiah.
Either way, cynics will be entertained, and among crazy political romantics August 9 will live in infamy as the day Reform died.